Michael Gira

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Michael Gira
Gira performing in Moscow, 2017
Gira performing in Moscow, 2017
Background information
Birth nameMichael Rolfe Gira
Born (1954-02-19) February 19, 1954 (age 70)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Singer-songwriter
  • musician
  • producer
  • author
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • bass
  • keyboards
Years active1979–present
Member ofSwans
Formerly of

Michael Rolfe Gira (/əˈrɑː/;[6] born February 19, 1954) is an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, author and artist. Now based in New Mexico,[7][8] he founded the band Swans, in which he sings and plays guitar, in New York City in the 1980s at the height of the no wave movement. He is also the founder of Young God Records and previously fronted Angels of Light.


Early life[edit]

Michael Rolfe Gira was born February 19, 1954, in Los Angeles, California[9] to Alice (née Shulte), originally from Iowa, and Robert Pierre Gira. His mother was an alcoholic, and Gira spent much of his early life caring for his younger brother.[10] Gira has commented that his parents were "not around much" during his early childhood.[10]

As an adolescent, Gira was arrested in California several times for petty crimes.[10] Facing the risk of being incarcerated in a juvenile hall, he relocated with his father to Germany[10] following a short stay in South Bend, Indiana.[11] While in Germany, Gira ran away and hitchhiked across Europe, lived in Israel for a year, and spent four and a half months in an adult jail in Jerusalem for selling hashish.[12] He turned 16 while in jail.[13]

Returning to California around age seventeen, Gira worked at a bakery on Redondo Beach Pier, completed his GED, went to community college, and then attended Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.[10] He moved to New York in 1979, where he played in a band called Circus Mort, before forming the band Swans.[14][15] In Manhattan, Gira found employment as a construction worker, doing demolition, sheetrock installation, and plastering.[16]


Initially, Swans' focus was raw rhythm and abrasive textures, usually eschewing melody for visceral power, becoming known for their abrasive experimental and post-industrial sound. Their commercial success was limited, but Swans earned critical notice and had a devoted following.

The band's lineup and sound evolved over time, and their music became somewhat more conventional. A marked shift in Swans' music came with inclusion of Gira's partner, Jarboe, who added her ethereal voice and synthesizers to the group in 1985. Gira and Swans spent the next twelve years releasing studio, live, and side-project albums. Gira's frustration with various record labels grew over time, and he disbanded Swans in 1997.

However, in 2010, Gira decided to revive the band, with members new and old. They released a new album titled My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. A second post-revival album, The Seer, was released in 2012. A third, To Be Kind, was released in 2014. All three were met with increasing critical acclaim. The Glowing Man followed and was released in June 2016. Leaving Meaning followed in 2019.[17] Swans' 16th studio album, The Beggar, was released on June 23, 2023.[18]

Solo career and Angels of Light[edit]

Michael Gira performing at The Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon on March 3, 2009

After dissolving Swans in 1997 Gira released a solo album under his own name and began a new musical direction with Angels of Light, which are a quieter, more acoustic-based group than Swans.

Gira also spent time experimenting with soundscapes, found sound, and loops with The Body Lovers / The Body Haters project. He has also released several albums under his own name including Drainland (1995), a spoken word album called The Somniloquist (2000), and What We Did (2001), a collaboration with Windsor for the Derby's frontman Dan Matz.

Gira founded his own record label, Young God Records, which has released albums from such artists as Devendra Banhart, Mi and L'au, and Akron/Family as well as Swans, The Angels of Light and The Body Lovers' back catalogues.

Akron/Family served as Gira's backing band during the recording of and touring for The Angels of Light's 2005 album, The Angels of Light Sing 'Other People'.

Gira has spoken of his decision to shift his focus from The Angels of Light back to Swans as a move based on impassivity. He has stated, "I had been doing this band Angels of Light for thirteen years, and had reached a kind of impassivity with that, sorta like I had reached an impassivity with Swans when I initially stopped it."[19]


Gira's first short story collection The Consumer (ISBN 1-880985-26-8) was published in 1995 by Henry Rollins's 2.13.61 publications. It is divided into two parts, the first being "The Consumer", a series of short stories from the early 1990s, the second, "Various Traps, Some Weaknesses", made up mostly of prose-poems and vignettes, all dating from 1983 to 1986. (Many of these earlier stories had previously been published by SST Records as Selfishness, with illustrations by Raymond Pettibon.) In a Spike Magazine review of The Consumer And Other Stories, Jordon Leigh Bortle writes, "the squeamish may wish to armour themselves before entering these pages [...] Here, all taboos are annihilated — incest, alcoholism, obscene torture, rape, cannibalism, and perverse murder have all but become the norm in which these tragic tales occur."[20]

In February 2018, Gira released his second short story collection, The Egg. Limited to 2,500 hand-signed copies, The Egg compiles seventeen stories written over 2016. Included with the release is a disc containing narrations of a handful of stories from The Egg as well as a few from The Consumer.[21]

In May 2022, Gira released a collection of Swans lyrics, stories, and journals titled The Knot, in a collector's edition of 3,000 hand-numbered copies. The Knot is 408 pages long, and additionally contains 101 color images. The Knot contains all of the lyrics from the first Swans EP to Leaving Meaning, as well as lyrics from Angels of Light and World of Skin, among Gira's other projects, and includes archived writings from 1974 to 2022.[22]

Personal life[edit]

Gira dated pop singer Madonna before she was famous.[23]

Gira lists his favorite albums as On The Corner by Miles Davis, The Man-Machine by Kraftwerk, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie, 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Throbbing Gristle, the Stooges self-titled debut album, the Doors self-titled debut album and Strange Days, Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention, Pink Moon by Nick Drake, Symphonie No.2 by Henryk Gorecki, Blood On The Tracks by Bob Dylan, Tabula Rasa by Arvo Part, The Chess Box by Howlin' Wolf, and Ummagumma by Pink Floyd.[24][25]

Gira has a son named Swan according to Children of God album cover photographer Laura Levine.[26]


Michael Gira is known for using a Guild antique burst electro acoustic guitar, and a Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus Guitar Amplifier during his solo concerts. With Swans, Gira has used a variety of instruments including Ovation acoustic guitars and a Westbury Track II bass guitar during early performances. During the Soundtracks for the Blind and Swans are Dead era, Gira can be seen with a Gibson Lucille (which has since become his main guitar for the Swans reunion), a Fender Telecaster and a Gibson Les Paul. Recent shows have seen Gira using Orange amplifiers and cabinets, as well as Mesa Boogie cabinets.


Michael Gira on stage at Stylus, Leeds University, 5 April 2013

Solo albums


  • Hard Rock (1984) – with Lydia Lunch
  • A Diamond Hidden in the Mouth of a Corpse (1985) – with various artists
  • Offenbarung und Untergang by Georg Trakl (1999) – with Étant Donnés
  • What We Did (2001) – with Dan Matz
  • Gantse Mishpuchah Music in Three Parts (2004) – with David Coulter, Jean-Marie Mathoul & Charlemagne Palestine

Live albums

  • Jarboe Emergency Medical Fund (1999)
  • The Somniloquist (2000)
  • Living '02 (2002)


  • Songs for a Dog (1999)
  • The Milk of M. Gira: Selected Solo Home Recordings 2001–2010 (2011)
  • I Am Not This (2016)

With Swans

With Angels of Light

With World of Skin


  1. ^ a b c Leatham, Thomas (December 12, 2022). "Swans' Michael Gira names his favourite albums". Far Out. Retrieved July 24, 2023.
  2. ^ Essner, Dean (August 26, 2014). "Cold Specks – Neuroplasticity". Consequence. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
  3. ^ "Listen to Swans frontman Michael Gira's guest mix on BBC 6 Music". Fact. March 13, 2015. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Stosuy, Brandon (May 8, 2014). "Interviews: Swans". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
  5. ^ Nasrallah, Dimitri (October 24, 2010). "Michael Gira: From Uncompromising Swans to Ethereal Angels of Light". Exclaim!. Retrieved July 27, 2015.
  6. ^ "Spinning on Air: The Angels of Light". WNYC. New York Public Radio. October 23, 2005. Retrieved March 13, 2011.
  7. ^ "Interview: Michael Gira of Swans". Spectrum Culture. August 31, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
  8. ^ "The Beggar". Young God Records. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
  9. ^ "The Birth of Michael Rolfe Gira". California Birth Index. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e Lipez, Zachary (August 22, 2014). "In Search of the Real Michael Gira, From Prison Stays and Madonna Sightings to Swans' Second Coming". Self-Titled. Archived from the original on March 24, 2019. Retrieved July 11, 2020.
  11. ^ Gladstone, Neil (April 23, 2001). "Angels of Light | Press Clippings | Series 1". CMJ New Music Report. Young God Records. Archived from the original on August 27, 2013. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
  12. ^ Pattison, Louis (October 19, 2010). "Waxing lyrical: Swans' Michael Gira on his love of words". The Guardian. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  13. ^ Clark, Jeff. "Swans – Interview/Stomp and Stammer". swans.pair.com. Archived from the original on November 28, 2012.
  14. ^ Ratliff, Ben (September 3, 2010). "Michael Gira and Swans Re-Form for Tour". The New York Times. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  15. ^ Green, Jim (February 16, 2005). "Circus Mort". Trouser Press. Retrieved April 23, 2024.
  16. ^ Grow, Kory (May 26, 2015). "Why Swans Whipped Sheet Metal and Licked CBGB's Floor to Make 'Filth'". Rolling Stone.
  17. ^ "Swans Announce New Album 'Leaving Meaning,' Release "It's Coming It's Real"". Spin. September 5, 2019. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  18. ^ Van Isacker, Bernard (March 22, 2023). "Swans announce 16th album 'The Beggar' and 2023 world tour". Side-Line Magazine. Retrieved April 23, 2024.
  19. ^ "Michael Gira". Crasier Frane. October 20, 2010. Archived from the original on September 6, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  20. ^ Bortle, Jordon Leigh (April 1, 2001). "Michael Gira: The Consumer And Other Stories". Spike Magazine. Retrieved July 11, 2023.
  21. ^ Gira, Michael. "The Egg: Stories by Michael Gira". younggodrecords.com. Young God Records. Retrieved February 5, 2018.
  22. ^ "Michael Gira • The Knot: Complete Words for Music, Collected Stories and Journals". Young God Records. Retrieved May 28, 2022.
  23. ^ Joseph, Dan (September 4, 2018). "Nick Soulsby's Swans: Sacrifice And Transcendence, The Oral History". The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved February 27, 2024.
  24. ^ "Swans' Michael Gira names his favourite albums". Far Out Magazine. December 12, 2022. Retrieved February 27, 2024.
  25. ^ "Bleak Psychedelia: Michael Gira Of Swans' Favourite Albums". The Quietus. November 13, 2012. Retrieved February 27, 2024.
  26. ^ "Cool Customers « Mystery Spot Vintage". Laura Levine. October 31, 2010. Retrieved February 27, 2024.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]